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Online Student Again, Part 8: Online Customer Acquisition – Accio Customers!

With a wave of his wand, Harry Potter cried, "Accio Customers!"
“Accio Customers!” — Harry Potter
(Supposedly, it’s not magic, though.)

As of the end of this module, my mini-MBA course is now three-quarters of the way done! I’m glad it’s getting towards the end since it’s been a while since I squeezed in a course into my busy schedule.

This week’s topic was about online customer acquisition. Staci Smollen Schwartz taught this section. She was formerly the VP of digital marketing at Virgin Mobile, and now is an independent consultant for the Interactive Advertising Bureau. I found that much of this module took elements of all the prior sections so far, picking out elements that were meant to provide the best customer experience and provide what customers needed.

Ms. Smollen Schwartz began by talking about the offline versus the online experience– what entices customers to buy online versus offline? Some sites will direct you to brick-and-mortar, some will have you shop online retailer, and some will sell direct.

The foundation for how customers are driven towards products via websites has to do with the path towards awareness, to consideration, to conversion, followed up by engagement. Ms. Smollen Schwartz demonstrated this by presenting many different kinds of ads and having the class try to determine what part of the path were the ads and banner ads as calls to action.

She discussed various tactics to bring about the conversion. Offline tactics are meant to drive you towards digital, and can include QR codes, vanity URLs, using the Shazam app to listen to commercials that will drive you to a website, and hashtags. Product placement within website can occur too, just like on TV or radio. There are also brand experience apps to consider, such as an app doesn’t sell the product but the experience. The example used was the Weber Grills app, which provided recipes and grilling techniques instead of shopping for a Weber Grill. Another examples were branded microsites like Sherwin-Williams Chip-It browser plug-in or app, and YouTube videos and channels that talks about the experience rather than the product.

Naturally, you need to figure out how the measure the awareness through reach, engagement, favorability, and re-marketing capabilities. Search Engine Marketing is important, because while relevancy in organic search is big, you also need to know how buying keywords for paid search can make a difference provided that you can bid high enough on the rights to that keyword in the paid search. You can also use product listing ads, daily data feeds from retailers (images, SKUs, price), and CPC price   – can be made and used similarly to paid search, but with product specifics

Affiliate Marketing is another tactic. It’s similar to advertising, but instead of getting a slotted space, you get a percentage based on clicks to conversions. RetailMeNot is a good example of affiliate marketing with their coupon codes. Amazon actually has the longest running affiliate program–since 1996! (Where do I sign up?) This strategy is often used on smaller sites like blogs.  Commission Junction and LinkShare are others that are affiliate marketing networks. Re-marketing in online ads is marketing to people who have already been exposed to your website or banner ad at least once. The premise is that you look at an ad, and then next day, you see similar ads everywhere, like on Facebook, Yahoo, etc.

Behavioral targeting in online ads involves marketing to people who demonstrate an affinity to your brand or category, without necessarily every having been to your website or seen a prior ad. Third party data companies see cookies for certain things, and based on those purchases and views, they can figure out what likes might be. AdChoices is a common third-party company which is an initiative that tries to educate and be transparent in doing behavioral targeting while keeping government rules out, and provide an easy opt-out.

Enhanced targeting is often paired with custom creative, such as setting up a modular ad in which, based on the cookie data, can switch up info for the ad on the fly to customize and personalize it for the user.

Email marketing is a proven and efficient online acquisition tactic. Shoppers overwhelmingly report that promotional emails tend to be their preferred method of communication with a company, and often cited as second biggest influence on a website visit.

Social media marketing is something that brands are still experimenting and seeing how this works because it’s still new. At least one-third of all shoppers say their purchases are influenced by social media, as “likes” and “dislikes” are often posted about a retailer that can influence the brand.

It was at this point that Ms. Smollin Schwartz gave us some formulas on how e-commerce conversions happen.

1) Total site conversion rate (%) =# of orders / # of visits X 100

2) Upper conversion rate (%) (This would be the awareness, consideration, and conversion) = # of orders added to the online shopping cart/#visits X 100

3) Lower conversion rate (%) (engagement) = # of completed purchases/#orders added to cart X 100

Tactics for driving upper conversion include recommendations and personalization; A/B testing, multivariate testing (variations of the same thing in different configurations) created on the fly for best performance, site search,virtual sales agents (live chat), and social commerce (negative reviews are best, because you can decide if the worst thing about that product is something you can live with).

Tactics for driving lower funnel conversion include incentives, like free shipping or accelerated shipping if ordered by a certain time, pricing incentives, alleviations to security and privacy concerns, and accepting PayPal instead of credit cards.

Shopping cart abandonment is about 71%, and this is usually due to customer shipping concerns or the customer is not ready to purchase. Some will take advantage of that, and re-market the shopping cart information for abandoned items in carts and promote a discount in order to fulfill the purchase process.

Driving cross-channel conversion is another online tactic, in which companies provide store locators, in-store pickup options, or even cross-channel prompts (allows the customer to click to call to finish the sale).

Engagement after the sale is important, because customer acquisition doesn’t stop after the initial sale.  The progression of customer engagement starts with inactive customers, then moves towards active customers, to participating customers, who eventually can become product evangelists who bring in more prospects. Building engagement and loyalty is confirmation marketing, which is done through community building, packaging and loyalty programs. Referral marketing is part of this engagement, in which incentives are used such as one customer’s referral code is used by another customer, and the original customer gets an incentive to get a reward too. This works similarly to affiliate marketing.

Ms. Smollen Schwartz summarized the online customer acquisition process with her “Key Tactical Lessons throughout the Customer Journey”, which were:

  • It is helpful to think about tactics in terms of a consumer decision framework of awareness/consideration/conversion/engagement, integration of offline, online, mobile and social, and often circular pathways.
  • Tools, tactics, and metrics differ depending on a customer’s stage along the decision pathway, nature of your product and industry, and your budget allocation.
  • Look at the key drivers of e-commerce and digital-influences sales, including the success of traffic-driving tactics, upper and lower conversion rates, ways of measuring cross-channel sales impact, engagement, and repurchase.

Before I took this module, I thought this might be an easier topic for me to understand, but this was a harder section for me to get through. I think it’s because much of this was deeper marketing than I was experienced with, and it centered around consumer product examples. While I understood the consumer product examples, I had a hard time envisioning how I might convert this same information easily for a B2B service model. Everything given was very commercial product related. The information was very dry, so while it was evident that Ms. Smollin Schwartz knows her stuff, for me personally it was tougher to get through this information. I will say that a few examples she provided proved to be well-explained, so I could see that I had already participated in some of these tactics at some point, like affiliate marketing. I could also relate to all the consumer examples she gave from my consumer perspective. Envisioning how to parlay this information into a means of promoting the potential new business I’m thinking of starting…well, that question wasn’t answered as clearly as it was on how to promote and sell a consumer product.  Even getting through the quiz– it took me several tries before I got a good result. It gave me agita like the SEO information did again.

It looks like I will definitely have to attend the virtual office hour for this module, because I need to have a better grasp of how this information translates into acquiring customers for services that are not B2C (business to consumer), but B2B as well. For all I know, more subtle tactics are used.  So for now, a good part of this topic still eludes me.

The next module will be about web analytics and ROI (return on investment). I understand on a broad level what those are, and I’ve used some elementary analytics to help me understand how webpages perform on a website, but not much beyond that, so this will prove to be interesting.

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Online Student Again, Part 7: UX and Marketing–It’s an Experience, Man. 

It's all about the experience, man. Trippy.
It’s all about the experience, man.

This week’s online module for my digital marketing class was about user experience (UX) and marketing. I realized after taking this module that I know a lot more about UX that I thought I did, as it’s something I do every day either at work or even with presenting this blog. I had studied UX in grad school, and I remember doing the heuristic evaluations and discussions in visual design classes, but to realize that much of this is now second nature is a little bit of a relief!

The instructor for this module was Ronnie Battista, an experience design strategist for Slalom Consulting. He explained that UX is still evolving, as there doesn’t seem to be an agreed upon definition of what UX really is.

Battista explained that people, ultimately, are the most complex interfacing systems in the world! Within all those interfacing systems, there are three general types, namely

  1. Human, such as HCI (Human to Computer Interface), such as kiosks, devices, advertisements, and websites
  2. Industrial, as in industrial design, which are physical objects. Best example I could relate to items that include ergonomic design.
  3. Service, which comprises of both online and offline parts of a service experience, such as the end-to-end experience visit to a theme park to make the experience as easy flowing and enjoyable as possible.

User experience drive behavior and action, so Battista said that UX needs to address who your audience is, what does your audience need to do, and your efforts to help the audience to that. The end product needs to be user-centric.  There needs to be a user design lifecycle to complete this, meaning a series of steps done in order to get from start to finish whereby management is consulted, but the client is consulted again and again until it’s done right.

Battista explained that there are many ways to create these steps, but the basic plan that is taught in the Rutgers program is this:

  1. Contextual Inquiry , meaning “professional people watching” – seeing how people use or will use the product in action
  2. Set design goals
  3. Design User Interface
  4. Evaluate design models
  5. Build prototypes
  6. Test Prototypes
  7. Evaluate test results.  If the test results are negative, start back at step 4 and repeat until you get it right!

This is something I’m fairly familiar with as a content strategist and web publisher–I do this with my internal clients often, and sometimes it’s a nonstop tweaking that never seems to end!  Sometimes the design goals are limited by the content management system (CMS) that is used, so I have to be creative and work within those system parameters.

Battista continued to say that we have things that can work, and some challenges, but there are some things to keep in mind. Things are changing fast because business is about being fast. Big companies are having a hard time with this because it forces cultural changes. However, UX is seen as the innovation driver, and it’s becoming integral to many business/IT roles. Tool-time UX software is getting very good, as software options for UX research, design, and evaluation are exploding to the point that most of the UX work being done is commoditized. Big Data is a “Big Brother” that knows big things about you, so analytics come into play giving deeper insight almost to the creepy factor, but it can be seen as better than some qualitative insights.

In the end, it’s all about customer satisfaction and providing the customer with what he/she needs! It promotes brand loyalty. Battista gave a great example of a friend who was a diehard loyal fan of a particular car brand. When the brand wouldn’t reimburse the friend for a recalled part after two years, the friend said that they lost a customer. Coincidentally, the friend ended up in another car brand’s commercial praising his customer experience with the other brand after visiting a “confessional” booth at a dealer.

Journey mapping is needed to figure out how to create the experience. Many companies start with a system or software and work backwards, when it should be figuring out the experience and then deciding on which software or system meets that need. Battista quoted Forrester Research saying, “In order to break from their tunnel vision, complex companies need to understand their customer experience ecosystem.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Journey mapping is taking the idea of customer personas and walking through what their journey/experience is with your brand, from start to finish, whether they are happy with the product or  you need to make up for disappointing the customer.

Battista said that good customer journey maps rely on these seven factors:

  1. Establish goals and outcomes
  2. Do not limit mapping to actions
  3. Represent the customer perspective
  4. Treat it as a research project
  5. Combine qualitative and quantitative
  6. Build to communicate
  7. Executive ownership & governance

Going through these steps and paying attention to the details of the customer journey help with a more positive UX outcome.

So how does UX fit into marketing? Battista said it depends on how well it’s done, and it’s not always well. UX and Marketing generally are basing their evaluations on similar requirements, but perhaps from different approaches. Most importantly, though, UX should be included in the inception of the process, not at the end. He added that when dealing with agencies, you must ask what they are creating and why (understand the ROI), own the cross-channel experience (any breakdown in the total experience spoils the entire experience), REALLY understand your audience, make sure that the customer has a real voice that people will listen to, get educated (learn to understand buzzwords and trends), take control of measurement and evaluation, and exhibit self-awareness and appropriate selfless-ness. Most importantly, never forget PEOPLE.

Lastly, as part of understanding personas, he pointed out that digital natives are used to not having privacy issues the same way “old timers” do, meaning that they are more willing to share and provide information that could be seen as compromising privacy. As a result when looking at the bigger picture, there is a question of how people are digitally connected and the information they are willing to share now.

Battista concluded with the statement, “Digital strategy should be an imperative!” I couldn’t agree more!

Overall, while there were some of the deeper marketing elements that I needed to pay more attention to, as a content strategist, the basics were easy for me, as much of this, as I mentioned, is what I do on a daily basis. While I knew I had the ability, I hadn’t thought of UX strategy as being one of my strengths in my skill set. After this module, I’m thinking it is now!

I’ve got three more modules to go, a final exam, and a capstone project, so the end is getting closer! Stay tuned for the next module, which will be online customer acquisition. Since I’m starting to feel that starting my own consulting business is in the cards later this year, this will be a unit I’ll pay very close attention to.

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Happy 3rd Birthday, TechCommGeekMom!

Now, if I only could eat this to celebrate, but I'm on a diet. :-(
Now, if I only could eat this to celebrate, but I’m on a diet. 😦

Can you believe it?

TechCommGeekMom is celebrating another birthday–it’s 3 years old now!

I guess this means it’s not a little baby blog anymore. And by the numbers, it’s definitely grown. Last calendar year, this blog had over 10,000 hits! I’m hoping to do more than that this year, naturally. Based on the stats I’ve seen so far this year, I’m off to a good start!

The blog has also evolved. While it started out concentrating on m-learning and e-learning (and I still try to talk about that when I can), it has shifted more towards where my other interests in tech comm lie, and where my career has shifted me thus far, namely in content strategy. Even more recently, as content strategy evolves and has encouraged me in this direction, I’m starting to include more on digital marketing as it relates to content marketing. And in between, I’ve included articles about technology and education, better ways of writing, thinking about globalization and localization issues, and a whole lot more. I know I have over 900 posts on here between content curated and original posts, and it’s not stopping yet!

Thanks to all who read and support TechCommGeekMom. I still look at this blog as a work in progress, and I always look forward to getting feedback and conversations going on here. That was the whole intent of this blog–to incite conversation and to help share information that can educate my fellow technical communicators! (I think it’s working!) So, thanks again for visiting from time to time, and keep coming back for more! I’m hoping to do new things and continue to grow this blog as time goes on!

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Online Student Again, Part 6: Personalized Digital Experiences–Oh boy. Almost creepy.

LISTEN--I told you that you were a pudding brain to begin with, and this just proves it. And don't give me a hug.
LISTEN–I told you that you were a pudding brain to begin with, and this just proves it.
And don’t give me a hug.

When I started the next unit on personalized digital experiences, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  In short, my initial guess that it had to do with the tech comm mantra of “know your audience” was right, but that’s an over-generalization of the whole thing. While this was most likely an overview and simplification of the actual process as it relates to marketing, I could just feel my head explode and all that was left was my original pudding brain state.

Tim Peter of Tim Peter & Associates was the instructor of this particular module. His company concentrates on providing that personal experience to all users. I think the primary focus of the module was about finding all the different ways that a marketing could make digital experiences personalized with caveats on how to make sure that it didn’t get “creepy” (which was the “technical” term used throughout the module over marketers overstepping their bounds 😉 ).

There were a few points that I picked up in the course that I felt were important to note. First, Tim pointed out that digital experiences are not “personalized” as much as “persona-lized”. In other words, because there are way too many individual differences for each person to be targeted, groups are identified instead of individuals, which makes sense. So, personalization is really about coming up with different persona groups to target. I could relate to this because it sounds like “know your audience” and many of the basic premises of content strategy. The practice of creating personas was familiar to me, too, because I remember working on that as an exercise in my content management and information architecture classes at NJIT.

Ultimately, the goal of the marketer is to answer the customer’s questions of, “Am I going to be satisfied with your product or service?” and “Why should I buy from you?”. It makes sense.

Tim made the next statement, which really made a big impact on me, which was namely that content is king, context is queen, but the crown jewels are DATA.  The rest of the course pushed forward on that notion, namely, how to gather anonymous data without crossing the creepy factor that overpersonalizes the collection of data.

He explained there are two main ways to do it through content targeting. The first way is through explicit data, which is getting data directly from the customer by asking,  such as asking for a name, e-mail address, how did you find us, and other questions in which the customer will answer outright by filling in a form or some sort. The second way is through implicit data, which is what you can infer about the customer based on their actions and/or behaviors. This is where those anonymous “cookies” that you have in your browser come into play.  As a result of gather data through these means, you can then customize different messages of different sizes to different audiences at different times.

To make this work the most effectively, there were five calls to action to follow in order to help prioritize marketing objectives and make it clear, namely:

  1. Size  matters – Follow Fitt’s law, which says that bigger ads get more responses.
  2. Placement
  3. Use verbiage that are calls to action like “Act now!”
  4. Style – pay attention to how you use links, links in text, and/or buttons
  5. Color – use color wisely. For example, you wouldn’t use red on a medical site.

In the end, it’s all about identifying your ideal customer based on all the data gathered, and making sure that the content and messages that are being presented meet the needs of your customers to ensure customer satisfaction.

I think the course was definitely one of the harder ones, especially after the “reprieve” of having a few weeks with topics like social media, mobile, and content marketing that I had more familiarity with. I got through the quiz for this one okay,  but I can say that I did learn something extra about the complexities of creating a personalized digital experience. All I can say is that is sure seems rather complicated, that’s for sure! My head is still spinning, and as I said earlier, I’m sure we barely scratched the surface. I’m sure marketers would’ve had an easier time understanding some of these data gathering points better than this content strategist. I never had to dig that deep!

I’m now just past the halfway point in the course now, so hopefully the rest will be smooth sailing.  The next module will be about User Experience (UX) and marketing. Having studied user experience and done some of that professionally, I’m hoping that this next module won’t be too complicated, but I’m sure I’ll be shown plenty of things that I don’t know in relation to marketing.

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Online Student Again Part 5: Content Marketing: Wait, didn’t I hear about this a year ago? 

"We have a sound content marketing strategy! PR, marketing, IT, the social media team, and the content strategy team all pitched in! It's gonna work!" says Don Draper.
“We have a sound content marketing strategy! PR, marketing, IT, the social media team, and the content strategy team all pitched in! It’s gonna work!” says Don Draper.

Almost exactly a year ago, I returned from a conference that changed a lot about the way I think about content. It was the 2014 Intelligent Content Conference (ICC2014). My brain soaked in a lot of information, and new friends and networking connections were made during that trip. (Good times!)

One major point–which is also a big focus of this year’s 2015 Intelligent Content Conference–was that content marketing was the next big focus item. Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) gave a keynote that compelled content strategists at the ICC2014 for us to consider embracing marketers and work together toward tearing down the silos so that we could share skillsets to create better content to promote goods and services. In other words, we should all be shifting towards being content marketers. It made sense, but it was overwhelming for me.

Fast forward to a year later, and here I am now, taking my digital marketing coursework, and this week’s module was about content marketing. Ooh boy. Here we go. The very reason that I’m taking this coursework in the first place–to have a deeper understanding of digital marketing, what content marketing is, and how I can try to fit into it my skill set going forward.

The instructor for this module was Greg Jarboe, a well-known YouTube guru and president of SEO-PR, a content marketing agency which has worked with several well-known brands. While I hadn’t seen Mr. Jarboe present before, his name rings a bell, and I don’t know why. Hmm.

Anyway, Mr. Jarboe’s lecture was enlightening, enjoyable, and took some of my anxieties away.  While content marketing is still a little overwhelming because of the scale of all of it, I came away with six main points that I’d heard before in content strategy, but hit home for me for content marketing.

1) Content needs to be relevant and have value for the end user. This seems obvious, but it’s generally overlooked.

2) Storytelling works. People are drawn in by stories, not jingles or catch-phrases. This is how blogging for a company actually can have some big benefits. (Yay!)

3) Tear down the silos by working with other departments, such as marketing, IT, public relations, etc. Gee, I’ve definitely heard that multiple times in last two years on the content strategy side!

4) A structured, documented content strategy is necessary to build for success. Like we content strategists didn’t already know this one!

5) Measurable metrics for ROI based on outcomes, like website traffic is up, sales, sales leads, customer retention, higher conversion rates, etc.  The first thing that came to my mind was good ol’ Mark Lewis with XML Metrics as a start. Mr. Jarboe took this a step further from a marketing perspective.  An easy way to do this is to track what you do! Measure URL hits against results using special URLs from the Google URL generator. For example, create a special URL for a promotion, and measure number of clicks to that special URL against sales results during that time period. (Makes sense!)

6) Brand recognition is not the goal anymore; generating leads and sales is. This makes sense too. I’ve learned from marketing this blog that once you knew my “brand” of TechCommGeekMom, then it’s been up to me to keep you coming back. While my “product” at this point it sharing information that I think is relevant in the tech comm world at large,  I want you to keep coming back and sharing your experiences and interests with me as well.

So there you have it. I think from a content strategist’s point of view, these are easy to understand and remember. The trick is, going back to point #3, is that it’s good to have more than one perspective working on content marketing. By combining the different “superpowers” from various groups, a great content marketing strategy can result. I think if I can keep these basics in mind, I might just have a chance at finding a content marketing position if the opportunity arises.

Do you think I’m leaving any basics out? Let me know in the comments.

Next module up is called, “Personalized Digital Experiences”. Again, this is another topic that I know I’ve heard before several times in content strategy, so it’ll be interesting to hear how digital marketing approaches the same topic.